Travel Italy

ROMAN THERMAL SPA REVISITED: SALICE TERME, LOMBARDY

Salice Terme, once the seat on an ancient Roman thermal spring and spa, is now a small town in the hilly region of Oltrepo Pavese, at the foot of the Apennine Mountains.

Intersection of Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria, Emiglia Romagna

Just about a 90 minute drive south of Milan, the Oltrepo is an area South the Po River, at the crossroad of three regions: Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Liguria.

Influences from these four regions are reflected in the local dialects but above all in the cuisine, where one can find recipes featuring fish from the Mediterranean Sea (i.e. bagna cauda, a warm olive oil-based sauce with anchovies), and Piedmont inspired meat-stuffed pasta (i.e. ravioli di brasato, stuffed with slow cooked beef filling), beside great wines, cheeses and salami.

The Oltrepo is famous for its vineyards and delicious wines, such as Bonarda, Gavi di Gavi, Prosecco and the sparkling whites of Santa Maria La Versa.

A thermal location known since Roman time for its spring water (there are still the ruins of an ancient Roman spring), Salice Terme and the nearby village of Rivanazzano boast spa pools feed by natural thermal spring water containing selenium, bromide and iodine, ideal for relaxing massages, mud wraps / scrubs, other healing and wellness body treatments.

As witnessed by surviving local local villas and palaces, Salice Terme was until a few decades ago the sought after destination for long summer vacations and wellness retreats of the upper class, who stayed at several prestigious local hotels to enjoy daily trips to the baths and the spa and relax in the natural beauty of the surrounding hills.

Vineyards around Salice Terme, Lombardy

While the ancient luxury of the ‘thirties and ‘forties belongs to the past, nowadays Salice Terme enjoys a renewed popularity for its closeness to large cities such as Milan and Turin, to art and historical destinations such as Pavia and Volpedo, and to the Mediterrannean Coast, as well as for its great food and wines.

In the summertime visitors can play golf in the local 18 hole golf course, splash in the large outdoor swimming pools, hike on the nearby Appennine Mountains trails, bike on the footsteps of famous biking champions such as Bartali and Coppi, taste wine in the local cellars, savor local cheeses, ravioli or salami, or simply relax in nature.

Proximity to the Salt Path Trails and the Apennine Mountain paths, make Salice Terme ideal for nature lovers, hikers, bikers, “foodies” as well as off-road motorcycling aficionados.

Shoppers will not want to miss a trip to the nearby large shopping Oulet of Serravalle Scrivia, where they can enjoy major discounts on Italian and international fashion brands such as Hugo Boss, Prada, Versace, Gucci and many, many others. At the Serravalle Scrivia outlet shopper will not only find famous clothing and fashion brands but also shoes, home accessories, watches and jewelry, cosmetics and perfumes, fine food, coffee shops and restaurants.

Delicious, homemade food along the Italian Apennine Mountains trails.

Last Summer we hosted hiking tours on the Italian Apennine Mountains. We ate great food!

Italy - Area of the Salt Paths

Italy – Area of the Salt Paths

The Italian Apennine Mountain trails food was a sort of “reward” for our somehow challenging daily 4 to 8 hour hikes from the Italian region of Piedmont to the quaint villages of Cinque Terre and Portofino, on the Mediterranean Coast.

One of the highlights of our trips, besides the breathtaking views and enchanting natural vistas of the Appennine Mountains, was the delectable Italian food we consumed during the hikes and at night, when we stopped at quaint B&Bs along our route.Salth Path 5 - Copy

For lunch we ate delicious picnic lunches: artisanal bread, local cheeses, mouthwatering mozzarella cheese, sun kissed vine tomatoes, grapes, figs and other ripe local fruits.

Delicious dinners at the end of our days

Every night we stopped at an “agriturismo” – the Italian version of country B&Bs – which also provided our amazing and overly abundant evening dinners.

As a matter of fact once arrived at our destinations at the end of our hiking day, delectable dinners were waiting for us featuring local, homemade delicious foods and ingredients: roasted wild boar, flavorful stews and roasts, hams, Italian cheeses and salami, mushroom dishes, home prepared jams and preserves, herb liqueurs and other delicacies.

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Our hosts, B&Bs owners, made sure all the hikers were well fed to face the next day’s hikes. They often prepared dinner by gathering fresh fruits and vegetable directly from their vegetable gardens or using their own made cheeses or cured meats.Dine al fresco

Despite we traveled over 60 miles in total from Piedmont to the Italian Riviera, which we reached at Portofino, (around 8-10 miles per day average), the local food could not have been more different from one location to the next.

The lower valleys of Piedmont and Lombardy provided corn and wheat for our lovely polenta and homemade pasta, mixed with chestnut flour, root vegetables, sauces, meats and delectable mushrooms.

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The not to far away Mediterranean sea provided plenty of seafood; in Liguria we ate pasta dressed by the local famous pesto, a sauce made of fresh basil, pine nuts and olive oil, all locally sourced ingredients.

Italian food ingredients

 

In the morning, we consumed healthy breakfasts of artisanal breads, jams, cheese and cold cuts. We also had fruit, two or three types of pie, strong piping hot espresso coffee, cooked by the B&Bs owners & hosts.

 

Home kitchen. Italian cooks.

After breakfast we descended from the top of mountains to trails among forests of beeches and chestnuts or hiked to peaks allowing a glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea.

When we reached the coast, after eight days of hiking in the mountains, we celebrated the end of our hiking tour in the Apennine Mountains by savoring a scrumptious gelato!

Ancient trails in the Italian Apennine Mountains: the Salt Paths

This is a repost of my last year’s blog on the Salt Paths, a network of hiking trails in Italy. Stretching for hundreds of miles along the Italian Apennine Mountains  from the inland planes and cities of Piedmont and Lombardy they connect to the Ligurian Coast, jutting on the Mediterranean Sea.

Used since prehistory, and later by Roman troops, these trails had been trekked by salt merchants during the Middle Ages until the 18th century, transporting salt from the coast.

After a short resurgence during World War II, they went forgotten for decades. These trails are now enjoying a sort of rebirth, gaining new popularity among Italian and international hikers.

The Salt Path itinerary from Piedmont to the Coast

The climate of the coastal region of Liguria is mild and the nearby sea a good source of food.

To supplement their diet the   inhabitants of this region, the Ligurian people, also extracted salt from the sea and bartered it inland for meat and grains.

Salt was, then and for a long time, a very important commodity, so vital that legionnaires during the Roman Empire were partially paid with it. The word “salary” comes from “salt.”

The most common mean of transportation for salt was backpacking, eventually supported by mules, thus carving an intricate network of paths along the Apennine Mountains sloping to she sea.

The Apennine Mountains

Churches and inns were built along paths and local rulers began to impose duties and taxes in exchange for security and the right to  cross their lands.

Many dynasties were founded on the commerce of salt and the control over its routes.

Posting stations were built and soldiers were posted on the trails to protect merchants.

From small posting stations soon entire villages and then prosperous small town towns were established such as Bobbio and Uscio.

The use of this web of trails for commerce purposes ended around the 18th century, but gained a new popularity during World War II.   Groups of Italian Partisans fighting German troops used these abandoned and overgrown paths to reach their hideouts on the Apennine Mountains, smuggling supplies and weapons to launch their attacks.

Today the Salt Path trails are experiencing a sort of renaissance thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers i.e. Club Alpino Italiano (CAI – Italian Alpine Club.

Such organization, in the recent past, has restored and marked this web of mountain paths nicknamed “the Salt Paths”,  making an area of Italy still virtually unknown until a short while ago accessible to international hikers.

Wild horses on the Italian Salt Paths

Despite still relatively unknown many hikers, from Italy and around the world, now hike these trails year round and are rewarded by lovely scenery, possibly a glimpse of wild life such as wildboars, wolves and horses having escaped from domestication and become wild. One can also admire quaint villages, breathtaking views, awesome food, and lastly, the Mediterranean Sea.

Arriving to the Mediterranean Coast, after hikes that can be long or short, depending on your choice, can be a huge reward!

Portofino, Italy - End of the hike

Portofino, Italy

 

On ancient merchants’ footprints: the Italian Apennine Mountains

This is a repost of my last year’s blog on the Salt Paths: Hiking ancient merchant trails connecting inland cities of Northern Italy to the Mediterranean Coast across the Apennine Mountains.

I hosted hiking tours on the footprints of ancient salt merchants in late Summer month with local guides & co-hosts Lorenza and Gianni. More hikes are scheduled for Spring and Summer of 2017.

Our group of hikers on our first day on the Salt Paths in Piedmont

In 8 days we hiked on separate path stretches, not following one single specific trail, starting from the quaint village of Pontecurone in Piedmont, Italy, eventually reaching the Mediterranean Sea at Portofino, on the Italian Riviera.

Italy - Area of the Salt Paths

Italy – Area of the Salt Paths

We “immersed” ourselves in more than 2000 years of history as these ancient routes had been used by prehistoric populations inhabiting these regions, later by the Romans and throughout the Middle Ages by salt merchants and their mules to transport salt from the coast to Italian inland cities.

Mount Antola

Mount Antola, Piedmont

One  of the most ancient paths, trailing high on the crest of Mount Antola (about 500 ft) on the Ligurian Apennines, offers hikers the opportunity to admire a majestic landscape in the Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Liguria: unobstructed mountains’ views, deep valleys dotted with small hamlets, distant creeks, the Mediterranean Sea peeking among the summits at some point.

As a matter of fact, after a few days of hiking in the remote distance all members of our group could catch a glimpse of the far away Mediterranean Sea and the Ligurian Coastal villages of Rapallo, Portofino, Cinque Terre, our final destination.

We spent the night at lovely B&Bs in small villages, in the past centuries thriving posts along the Salt Paths.

Due to the huge value of salt throughout history, praised as preserving agent, essential human and animal diet component and as flavor enhancer, simple rest stations along these Apennine Mountains’ trails evolved into villages and later in larger towns with their own economies, such as  the ancient small town of Bobbio, which thrived in the Middle Ages.

Originally a convent during Roman times, the city of Bobbio became a central and favorite stopover for merchants and pilgrims during their journeys.

Enriched by the taxes imposed to merchants,  it provided rest and protection to caravans, also a spiritual haven to thousands of pilgrims en route to Rome. A Roman bridge (the Humpback Bridge built, according to a legend, by the devil), medieval churches, an ancient abbey (the Abbey of St. Columbanus) and a mosaic of byzantine origin stand as witnesses of thousands years of history.

 

The Humpback Bridge in Bobbio

We spent our nights at “agriturismos” – the Italian version of country B&Bs – which also provided our amazing and overly abundant evening dinners.

In the morning, after healthy breakfasts we slowly descended from the top of mountains to more gentle trails among forests of beeches and chestnuts.

Along the way, we passed small alpine huts, distant castle ruins, towers and farms. Eventually the sea got closer, and we could feel the salty breeze in our nostrils.

Before reaching the coast we still had time to experience another village, with its own traditions and legends. At Uscio, we visited a church built 1000 years ago, spared from destruction by the locals’ struggle against the bishop’s plans to demolish it to build a bigger one.

Close-by, we were led through a 200 year old factory Trebino Roberto featuring a private museum of the company’s main manufacturing product: church tower bells. The factory still produces tower clocks for churches all over the world. Some of their tower bells are at the Vatican, others in other main Italian churches.

Through a splendid forest our last section of trail took us to the beach town of Portofino, on the Ligurian Coast. Portofino, Italy - End of the hike

Portofino is a picturesque, half-moon shaped seaside village with pastel houses lining the shore of the harbor, shops, restaurants, cafes, and luxury hotels.

The green waters reveal abundant aquatic life. A castle sits atop the hill overlooking the village.

The vegetation had changed and the salty aroma blended with the perfume of maritime pines, colorful houses lined the harbor.

After a 8 day hike along ever changing trails, crossing wooded area, bare peaks, quaint village, we reached our destination, the Ligurian Coast, not too far from the famous Cinque Terre, the place where everything started, the origin of the Salt Paths.

We celebrated the end of our hike with a scrumptious Italian gelato!

For other incredible hiking trails in the world, check out the top 50 long distance hiking trails in the USA at: Bootbomb.com – http://bootbomb.com/info/hiking-trails/top-50-long-distance-hiking-trails-usa/

On ancient merchants’ footprints: Hiking the Italian Apennine Mountains

The Salt Paths are ancient merchant trails connecting the inland cities of Northern Italy to the Mediterranean Coast across the Apennine Mountains.

Val D'Aosta on map of ItalyI hosted hiking tours on the footprints of ancient salt merchants in late Summer month with local guides & co-hosts Lorenza and Gianni.

The experience was exhilarating.

 

Our group of hikers on our first day on the Salt Paths in Piedmont

 

Over 8 days we hiked on separate path stretches, not following one single specific trail, starting from the quaint village of Pontecurone in Piedmont, Italy, eventually reaching the Mediterranean Sea at Portofino, on the Italian Riviera.

We “immersed” in more than 2000 years of history as there ancient routes had been used by prehistoric populations inhabiting these regions, later by the Romans and throughout the Middle Ages by salt merchants and their mules to transport salt from the coast to Italian inland cities.

Mount Antola

Mount Antola, Piedmont

One  of the most ancient path, trailing high on the crest of Mount Antola (about 500 ft) on the Ligurian Apennines, offers hikers the opportunity to admire a majestic landscape in the Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Liguria: unobstructed mountains’ views, deep valleys dotted with small hamlets, distant creeks, the Mediterranean Sea peeking among the summits at some point.

As a matter of fact, after a few days of hiking in the remote distance all members of our group could catch a glimpse of the far away Mediterranean Sea and the Ligurian Coastal villages of Rapallo, Portofino, Cinque Terre, our final destination.

Every night of our 8 day hike we stopped at lovely B&B in small villages, in the past centuries thriving posts along the Salt Paths.

Due to the huge value of salt throughout history, praised as preserving agent, essential human and animal diet component and as flavor enhancer, simple rest stations along these Apennine Mountain trails evolved into villages and later in larger towns with their own economies, such as  the ancient small town of Bobbio, which thrived in the Middle Ages.

Originally a convent during Roman times, the city of Bobbio became a central and favorite stopover for merchants and pilgrims during their journeys.

Enriched by the taxes imposed to merchants,  it provided rest and protection to caravans, also a spiritual haven to thousands of pilgrims en route to Rome. A Roman bridge (the Humpback Bridge built, according to a legend, by the devil), medieval churches, an ancient abbey (the Abbey of St. Columbanus) and a mosaic of byzantine origin stand as witnesses of thousands years of history.

But one of the highlight of our days was food!

We ate delicious picnic lunches, and at night, once arrived at our destination, delectable dinners featuring local, homemade delicious foods including: wild boar, flavorful stews and roasts, hams, cheese and salami, mushroom dishes, local jams and preserves, herb liqueurs and other delicacies.

Despite we traveled over 60 miles in total from Piedmont to the Italian Riviera, which we reached at Portofino, (around 8-10 miles per day average), the local food could not have been more different from one location to the next.

The lower valleys provided corn and wheat for our lovely polenta and homemade pasta, mixed with chestnut flour, root vegetables, sauces, meats and delectable mushrooms.

The not to far away Mediterranean sea provided plenty of seafood; in Liguria we ate pasta dressed by the local famous pesto, a sauce made of fresh basil, pine nuts and olive oil, all locally sourced ingredients.

Mount Antola

Mount Antola, one of the tallest Apennine Mountain.

At night we found shelter at “agriturismo” – the Italian version of country B&Bs – which also provided our amazing and overly abundant evening dinners.

In the morning, after healthy breakfasts of local breads, jams, cheese and cold cuts, fruit, two or three types of pie, we slowly descended from the top of mountains to more gentle trails among forests of beeches and chestnuts.

Along the way, we passed small alpine huts, distant castle ruins, towers and farms. Eventually the sea got closer, and we could feel the salty breeze in our nostrils.

Before reaching the coast we still had time to experience another village, with its own traditions and legends. At Uscio, we visited a church built 1000 years ago, spared from destruction by the locals’ struggle against the bishop’s plans to demolish it to build a bigger one.

Close-by, we were led through a 200 year old factory Trebino Roberto featuring a private museum of the company’s main manufacturing product: church tower bells. The factory still produces tower clocks for churches all over the world. Some of their tower bells are at the Vatican, others in other main Italian churches.

A few miles away, a sanctuary rises to celebrate a miracle happened 600 years ago; and nearby, the villagers swear their valley is visited by UFOs on a regular basis!

Our last section of trail took us to a beach through a splendid forest: Portofino, a small village on the Ligurian Coast. Portofino, Italy - End of the hike

Portofino is a picturesque, half-moon shaped seaside village with pastel houses lining the shore of the harbor, shops, restaurants, cafes, and luxury hotels.

The crystalline green waters reveal a myriad display of aquatic life. A castle sits atop the hill overlooking the village.

The vegetation had changed and the salty aroma blended with the perfume of maritime pines, colored houses lined the harbor.

After a 8 day hike along ever changing trails, crossing wooded area, bare peaks, quaint village, we reached our destination, the Ligurian Coast, not too far from the famous Cinque Terre, the place where everything started, the origin of the Salt Paths.

We celebrated the end of our hike with a scrumptious Italian gelato!

 

Italian Apennine Mountains: rediscovering ancient trails.

The Salt Paths are a network of hiking trails in Italy, stretching for hundreds of miles along the Italian Apennine Mountains  from the inland planes and cities of Piedmont and Lombardy to the Ligurian Coast, jutting on the Mediterranean Sea.

Italy - Area of the Salt Paths

Italy – Area of the Salt Paths

In the past these trails were never considered a playground or a hiker’s paradise. Used since prehistory, and later by Roman troops, they were trekked by salt merchants during the Middle Ages until the 18th century, transporting salt from the coast.

After a short resurgence during World War II, they went forgotten for decades. These trails are now enjoying a sort of rebirth, gaining new popularity among Italian and international hikers.

The Salt Path itinerary from Piedmont to the Coast

The Ligurian region, on the North Western Coast of Italy was in the past arid and stony, with very little arable soil and sharp cliffs.

But the climate was mild and the nearby sea a good source of food.

By building stonewalls and carrying fertile soil from Etruria, modern Tuscany the Liguri, a local pre-Roman population, transformed this area into a livable land, with abundant fruit and vegetables.

To supplement their diet the Liguri also extracted salt from the sea and bartered it inland for meat and grains.

Salt was, then and for a long time, a scarce commodity, so important that legionnaires during the Roman Empire were partially paid with it. The word “salary” comes from “salt.”

The most common mean of transportation for salt was backpacking, eventually supported by mules, thus carving an intricate network of paths along the Apennine Mountains sloping to she sea.

The Apennine Mountains

Over the course of centuries, transportation got relatively safe when traffic and commerce were thriving; other times outlaws and bandits made the journeys extremely dangerous.

Churches and inns were built along paths and local rulers began to impose duties and taxes in exchange for security and the right to  cross their lands. Many dynasties were founded on the commerce of salt and the control over its routes. Posting stations were built and soldiers were posted on the trails to protect merchants.

From small posting stations soon entire villages and then prosperous small town towns were established such as Bobbio and Uscio.

The use of this web of trails for commerce purposes ended around the 18th century, but gained a new popularity during World War II.   Groups of Italian Partisans fighting German troops used these abandoned and overgrown paths to reach their hideouts on the Apennine Mountains, smuggling supplies and weapons to launch their attacks.

Today the Salt Path trails are experiencing a sort of renaissance thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers i.e. Club Alpino Italiano (CAI – Italian Alpine Club) which, in the past years, has restored and marked this web of mountain paths in an area of Italy still virtually unknown by international tourists until a short while ago.

Wild horses on the Italian Salt Paths

Despite still relatively unknown many hikers, from Italy and around the world, now hike these trails year round and are rewarded by lovely scenery, possibly a glimpse of wild life such as boar, wolf and horses having escaped from domestication and become wild, quaint villages, breathtaking views, awesome food, and lastly, the Mediterranean Sea.

Arriving to the Mediterranean Coast, after hikes that can be long or short, depending on your choice, can be a huge reward in itself alone.

Portofino, Italy - End of the hike

Portofino, Italy

By L. Gallia and Cinzia Gallia Schlicksup

 

 

 

Hiking Italy: ancient Salt Paths from Cinque Terre to Piedmont.

Walking Italy’s centuries old Salt Paths, (Via del Sale), across the Italian Apennines from the Piedmont Region to coastal Liguria is a unique experience. Ancient trails – established since pre-Roman times until before the Second World War – were used by salt merchants and their laden mules to transport salt from the area of Genoa, on the coast of the Italian Riviera, to the interior, rich cities of Piedmont and Italy.

The Ligurian Coast

The Ligurian Coast

The Italian Appennines

The Italian Appennines

Hannibal and his elephants used this route in 218BC, recruiting Ligurian soldiers to fight the Roman Empire. Just 2,112 years later, a 16-year-old Albert Einstein walked it with a friend on his way to visit an uncle.

For hundreds of years from the Middle Ages onward, mule trains loaded with sea salt would labor up to these heights from the coast, crossing range after range of the Ligurian Apennines, which separate the Gulf of Genoa from the Po Valley in north-west Italy.

The network of paths this  precious cargo traveled on became known as the Via del Sale, the Salt Path(s).

The route takes travelers along grassy paths through the Piedmont vineyards, before heading into the Apennine foothills where vast forests of sweet chestnuts replace the vines.

Quaint Bed and Breakfast inns (Agriturismo) dot the path.

Local architecture

Local architecture

As must have been the case in the early days of the Salt Paths, much of the food that will be consumed at the comfortable local lodgings along the path is foraged or sourced nearby. Chestnuts, acacia flowers, alpine herbs, nettles and salvia leaves all find their way on to delicious recepies of pasta, risotto and frittata omelettes.  A wild funghi and pasta dish called maltagliati del frantoio can be tasted at the small village of Uscio, along the path.

Italian pasta

Italian pasta

 

The path crosses ancient forests and winds through villages forgotten in time, such as Varzi, Uscio and Bobbio.

At  the ancient market town of Varzi the trails hit the  mountains, dotted with alpine flowers – royal blue gentians, mauve pansies, ivory asphodels, orchids in their thousands and mushrooms (funghi). On a clear day, from the summit of Monte Chiappo, in the Appennines, you might see all the way to Venice.

The path starts in Piedmont and ends in Camogli, a quaint village and a port town on the Ligurian Sea, clinging onto a precipitous hillside. Gone are the alpine flowers and in their place you can find groves of oranges, lemons and olives, while the air is scented by vast arrays of jasmine, wisteria and bougainvillea.

The Ligurian Coast

The Ligurian Coast

Casa Italia will host an 8 day walking tour on the Salth Paths this Fall from Sept. 29th to Oct 6th. 2015.

This small- group guided  8 day walking tour offers a unique travel experience, immersing travelers deep into nature, silence, and history.

You will enjoy expert bilingual Italian – English guides, delicious meals, quaint country inns, seamless ground transportation, spectacular landscapes, nature, friendship, and much more.

 

Beyond Milan Expo 2015: trendy spots in the city.

Milan is the main industrial, commercial, and financial center of Italy and a leading global city. Its business district hosts the Borsa Italiana (Italy’s main stock exchange) and the headquarters of the largest national banks and companies. The city is a major world fashion and design capital.

Milan’s museums, theaters and landmarks (including the Milan Cathedral, the Duomo, the fifth largest cathedral in the world)

Milan, the Cathedral (Duomo)

Milan, the Cathedral (Duomo)

and the Basilica of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, decorated with the famous Leonardo da Vinci’ painting, the Last Supper, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) attract over 8 million annual visitors.

Milan hosts numerous cultural institutions and universities and is also well known for several international events and fairs, including Milan Fashion Week and the Milan Furniture Fair, the largest of its kind in the world.

But Milan has much more to offer: great international restaurants, galleries, exhibits, shows, concerts, world class entertainment, opera at the famous theater La Scala, and the Basilica of San Lorenzo, built on the site of an ancient Roman temple.

Milan, the Basilica of San Lorenzo

Milan, the Basilica of San Lorenzo

 

Here are recommendation for a visit that includes elements beyond the “classical” touristy itineraries.

The big thing going on in Milan right now is Expo 2015.  From May to October 2015 Milan is hosting for the second time an Universal Exposition, the Expo 2015, whose theme is food sustainability. If you go, make sure not to miss the Expo and buy tickets in advance.

 

There are interesting ongoing exhibits at the Prada foundation.

Not to miss: Bar Luce inside the foundation. Designed by film director Wes Anderson, Bar Luce recreates the atmosphere of a typical Milanese cafè.

Fondazione Prada - Bar Luce (Courtesy of The Prada Foundation)

Fondazione Prada – Bar Luce (Courtesy of The Prada Foundation)

Worth seeing: a large farmer’s market under the stars: Mercato Metropolitano.

Not to miss: the Darsena, the area of ancient canals & port crossing Milan (designed by Leonardo da Vinci & recently restored) which used to connect Milan to the Ocean through a network of rivers and canals. Now you can stroll past art galleries, cafes, restaurants, boutiques and more.

Nearby you can eat a delicious meal at an old and traditional Milanese restaurant: El Brellin restaurant.

If you prefer to eat Vegan, try restaurant Alhambra.

Visit the interesting Italian photography exhibit at Palazzo della Ragione.

For a quick bite to eat while shopping downtown, go to Mercato del Duomo or grab a seat at another interesting & swanky restaurant: Asola.

Lastly, you can get free admission to Expo Milano 2015 when you purchase on your overseas air ticket on www.alitalia.com. Check all the Alitalia promotions to Milan!

If you go in the coming months you will find the city of Milan more alive and vibrant than ever!

Thermal Baths of Caracalla

Less popular sites worth seeing in Rome

I was recently in Rome. Here are some of my favorite sites which are – in my opinion – worth a visit despite they might be less popular than others:

The Baths of Caracalla are very close to the Forum and the Palatine, however many visitors miss the huge complex.

Inaugurated in 216 by the son  of Emperor Septimus Severus, Caracalla, the thermal bath complex, the largest and most beautiful in Rome, remained in operation up until the 6th century when the Ostrogoths, under Totilla, sacked it, destroying the hydraulic installations. Inside its thick rectangular walls are the remains of the main buildings, once surrounded by gardens and by the library, entertainment and conference rooms, and the gymnasium.

Thermal Baths of Caracalla

Thermal Baths of Caracalla, Rome

The entrance opens into the ‘Frigidarium’ (cold water room) and its pool, followed next by the ‘Tepidarium’ (luke water room), and finally the ‘Calidarium’ (hot water room), with a huge circular pool, that originally was topped with a cupola, which dominated the entire complex.

The pool was heated by a system of radiant panels. Beneath the room were a system of furnaces and pipes, along with elaborate passageways, facilitating the movement of huge quantities of wood and ash, as the baths could accommodate up to 6000 – 8000 people at a time.

Thermal Baths of Caracalla, Rome

Thermal Baths of Caracalla, Rome

The internal and external walls were covered in multicolored marble. The rooms and gardens were decorated with mosaics, paintings and statues in marble and bronze, some of which can now be found at the Vatican museum.

Admission free first Sunday of each month www.archeorm.arti.beniculturali.it

  •      St. John in Lateran

The site on which the Basilica sits was occupied during the early Roman Empire by the palace of the gens Laterani who served as administrators for several emperors; the Lateran Palace was eventually given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine. The palace basilica was converted and extended, eventually becoming the cathedral of Rome, the seat of the popes as bishops of Rome.

Basilica of St. John in Lateran, Rome

Basilica of St. John in Lateran, Rome

Saint John Lateran was the permanent residence of the Pope since Constantine until 1304, when the Pope escaped from the chaos reigning in the town and the Pope’s States. When the Popes returned to Rome in 1376, the Vatican was selected as the new permanent residence for the Pontificate.

On the Basilica’s facade, there are 15 statues, 7 meters high. The one in the center represents Christ, with Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist on each side. The other statues represent the Doctors of the Greek and Latin Churches.

The history of the Basilica is very complex. Due to the many earthquakes and fires it has suffered, the original construction has been rebuilt several times throughout the centuries.

There is very little left of the ancient Basilica, built by Emperor Constantine in the IV century. Today, whoever enters Saint John Lateran, will see the Basilica in its five naves with an ample crossing and a huge apse, restored in XIX, during the reign of Pope Leo XIII. The interior design and the interior architecture were completed in the XVI century by Francesco Borromini, one of the most prolific Roman artists and architects.

The basilica is very interesting architecturally and inspires a sense of awe.

  • Catacombs of St. Callixtus

The Catacombs of St Callixtus are located just outside Rome on the Appian Way. You can reach them from the square facing St. John in Lateran by riding bus line number 218 to the Fosse Ardeatine stop. Buy the bus ticket at a nearby news-stand, the ticket costs Euro 1.50 and can be used for 100 minutes (however only once in the Underground).

The area of the catacombs began to be used for burials in the second century AD, when some of the local proprietors, who must have been Christians, allowed the bodies of their brethren in the faith to be buried there too.

This was the first cemetery to be owned by the Church at Rome, and by the following century it housed the remains of sixteen popes, almost all of whom had been martyred. Callixtus worked as administrator of the catacombs for the best part of twenty years, before himself being elected pope, thus the catacombs were named after him.

It has been calculated that the number of Christian graves in the Catacombs of St Callixtus is around 500,000, 40% 0f whom were children. Most of them are quite plain tombs, marked only by a simple carved image. From the fourth century onward, once the persecutions had ended, inscriptions become much more common.

There are 4 layers of catacombs superimposed to one another, the tunnels are about 13 miles long, the visit takes about 30-40 minutes, is extremely interesting and leaves you wanting for more!

  • The Ancient Appian Way and the tomb of Cecilia Metella

Along the Ancient Appian Way the tomb of Cecilia Metella is a large funerary monument, built in the 1st century B.C., located about 3 miles outside of the city borders. The mausoleum’s location, on top of a hill, made it an important landmark for people traveling to Rome from the south.

Tomb of Cecilia Metella, Rome

Tomb of Cecilia Metella, Rome

The tomb bears an inscription saying it was constructed for Cecilia Metella, daughter of the consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus and wife of  Marcus Licinius Crassus, who governed with Julius Caesar. The tomb is raised on a square pedestal and is round in shape as it was inspired to the Etruscan  graves. It is covered with travertine marble.

During the Middle Ages (11th century) the tomb was transformed into the main tower of a fortress defending the southern access road into Rome. Later that the tomb was equipped with merlons.

The tomb is impressive and moving, still bearing witness to the love and grief of a father and a husband who lost their beloved daughter and wife about 2000 years ago.

If you have time, spend an afternoon walking or biking along the Ancient Appian Way, which has been transformed into a park dotted with monument ruins and the remains of ancient villas. You can still see fragments of the old road, with grooves markings of ancient Roman carts and wheels.

Emperor Nero in Rome: restored house opens

The restoration work site of Nero’s house in Rome, the Domus Aurea, now open to the public. You can visit upon appointment for a limited period of time.

After the fire of 64 a.D., which destroyed the greater part of the center of Rome, Emperor Nero had a new residence built with walls covered by rare varieties of marble and vaults decorated with gold and precious stones. The house was so glittering so as to earn the name of Domus Aurea (Golden House).

Frescoes in the Domus Aurea from Wikipedia

Frescoes in the Domus Aurea from Wikipedia

Built of brick and concrete, the extensive gold leaf that gave the villa its name was not the only extravagant element of its decor: stuccoed ceilings were faced with semi-precious     stones and ivory veneers, while the walls were frescoed, coordinating the decoration into different themes in each major group of rooms.

Nero's Domus Aurea from Wikipedia

Nero’s Domus Aurea from Wikipedia

  The Golden House was designed as a place of entertainment: there were 300 rooms but no sleeping quarter.

No kitchens or latrines have been  discovered.

The enormous complex included vast vineyards, pastures and woods, an artificial lake, treasures  looted from the Orient.

It was embellished by precious ornaments, such as a gigantic statue of the Emperor in the  robes of the Sun God.  At the death of Nero, his successors tried to bury every trace of the Palace.

The luxurious halls were spoiled of  the marbles and of of the sculptures and were filled with earth up to the the vaults; upon them the large Baths of  Titus and Baths of Trajan were built and in the underlying valley the Colosseum was erected.

The lavish fresco and stucco decorations of the Domus Aureas remained hidden until the Renaissance when some artists passionate about antiquities, including Raphael, entered into what they thought were caves and began to copy the ornamental motifs of the vaults; thus the decorations were called grotesques (from the Italian word grottesca, grotta being the Italian for cave).

Recently the Domus Aurea work site was reopened to the public after many years of being closed because of collapsed structures.

Visiting the work site will be possible on weekends  from 9:15 am to 3:45 pm upon appointment: call 01139 06 3996 7700 or visit: www.coopculture.it

The restoration is still in progress, paid for – in part – by the Italian company Sky Arte HD, which is also trying to raise more money for the works through crowdfunding. They need about 31 million Euro to restore the garden above the structure, which has been damaged by water infiltration.

In my opinion, visiting the Domus Aurea alone is worth a trip to Rome.

 

Statue in the Domus Aurea

Statue in the Domus Aurea from Wikipedia

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